What Went Wrong With Blass?

Lars Nilsson’s dismissal from the Blass collection a day after his runway show, came as a surprise to many editors.

NEW YORK — It’s a tale of two brands.

As Nicolas Ghesquière took Manhattan by storm on Thursday afternoon, his achievement in reinventing the brand of a late designer was even more pronounced in the face of the previous day’s news at another company undergoing a similar exercise — Bill Blass.

Lars Nilsson’s dismissal from the Blass collection on Wednesday, just a day after his runway show, came as a surprise to many editors, who favored the popular young designer, and store buyers, who said the collection was doing fairly well during recent trunk shows. But something didn’t work.

Since Blass passed away last June, his legacy, both in the designs of Steven Slowik and his successor after one season, Nilsson, never reached the excitement of Balenciaga, where editors clamored and competed for tickets to the Balenciaga show, customers covet his shapeless army sacks and Ghesquière is championed as a savior of contemporary fashion. For all the successful relaunches of brands of late or retired designers, like Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel, there are flipside flops, such as Halston and Givenchy, leaving only questions as to why some brands can’t seem to prevail in the afterlife.

Many of the most successfully reinvented brands are backed by large conglomerates like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Gucci Group. Gucci Group chief executive Domenico De Sole, attending the Balenciaga show Thursday, pointed to three critical components in the success of such company as Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta. “You have to have talent, and that has to be number one,” he said. “The second thing is the financial structure to build that brand and the third is patience, because it takes time to be a success.”

Patience clearly is something Michael Groveman, chief executive of Blass, doesn’t seem to have as he tries to maintain and grow a business with collection sales of $20 million and revenues of more than $600 million at retail from such licensed products as jeans, men’s shirts, ties and children’s wear. Groveman reportedly already has lined up yet another designer, Michael Vollbracht, who had his own collection in the Eighties and, most recently, helped organize the Blass retrospective in Bloomington, Ind., in October.

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